US President George W. Bush tried to repair US-Canada relations strained by years of bickering over trade and Iraq, although he stood by policies that have irritated Canadians. He did promise Prime Minister Paul Martin to work toward easing a US ban on Canadian beef.
Even as thousands of Canadian protesters thronged the streets Tuesday to protest his visit, Bush brushed aside suggestions that his decisions had damaged US-Canada ties. Asked about polls that show Canadian opposition to his policies runs high, Bush pointed to his own re-election this month as the survey that mattered.
"We just had a poll in our country when people decided that the foreign policy of the Bush administration ought to stay in place for four more years," Bush said at a joint news conference with Martin.
"I made some decisions, obviously, that some in Canada didn't agree with, like, for example, removing Saddam Hussein and enforcing the demands of the United Nations Security Council," Bush said.
Canadians for the most part lived up to their reputation for reserve as Bush made his way from the airport to downtown Ottawa. Most stood waving excitedly at Bush's enormous motorcade as it snaked down the road.
Many of Bush's opponents were polite. One of the first signs he saw read "Please Leave."
Others were more blunt. At lunchtime, a sign close to Bush's motorcade urged him to go home and depicted him riding atop a missile with a swastika on it. Twelve protesters were arrested after scuffles with riot police and one officer was injured, officials said.
The beef ban is a leading irritant in a relationship that has suffered during Bush's presidency, and the issue loomed large in Bush's first official trip to Canada.
In their private meetings, Martin vented "a great deal of frustration that the issue hadn't been resolved yet," Bush said.
"This has been studied to death," an exasperated Martin said of the Canadian beef ban, in place since May last year.
The Bush administration has since opened its border to some Canadian beef, but live cattle remain prohibited. Canadian ranchers are desperate, estimating they have lost more than US$2 billion.
"I believe that, as quickly as possible, young cows ought to be allowed to go across our border," Bush said. But, he said, "There's a bureaucracy involved. I readily concede we've got one."
The latest study rests with the White House's own Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and Bush said he had ordered the OMB to "expedite that [process] as quickly as possible."
Yet a resolution is months off. OMB has three months to study a rule that would allow into the US boxed beef and live cattle younger than 30 months; the deadline for completion of the study is mid-February. Then Congress has two months to scrutinize the proposed rule, a senior administration official said.
Bush had a cool relationship with former prime minister Jean Chretien, and the president canceled an official visit to Canada's capital in May last year after their disagreement over the Iraq invasion broke out into public view.
The trip to Ottawa opened a broader reconciliation tour he plans to continue in Europe early next year.
Martin, who succeeded Chretien as Liberal Party leader and has been in office less than a year, has sought to repair the damage. Bush embraced the opportunity for a fresh start with the US' northern neighbor and its 32 million people.